The other side of SONA

Published August 4, 2020, 10:00 PM

by Milwida Guevara

Nobody can steal the thunder from the credit rating upgrade of the Philippines.  The President boasted that it is one of the administration’s accomplishments.  Such feat was well applauded.  The Philippines is now in the company of Italy, Botswana, Malta, and Ireland, whose credit instruments are rated as AA-. 

This means that the country is credit worthy.  The investors face little risks in lending us money.  Government does not need to offer high interest rates to attract lenders to buy its debt papers. 

Certainly, those who managed our fiscal and monetary systems deserve a pat on their shoulders.

But a credit rating upgrade means very little to ordinary citizens particularly to the 3.9 million families who experienced involuntary hunger during the pandemic.   Roughly, this means that about 20 million Filipino live without food for days.

A credit rating upgrade is also meaningless when Filipino students ranked last in a PISA assessment on Reading skills. If this reminder were not enough,  the Philippines ranked last in the list of smartest countries in Asia using IQ (intelligence quotient) as benchmark.  IQ is an indicator of our ability to learn and is linked with poverty incidence.  My friend Dr. Ciel  Habito warns us of the irreversible effects of hunger on the development of children.  When children are hungry, they cannot learn and function well.

We also face an inadequate and poorly provided health care system.  The UN Report is particularly concerned on how weak our health system is.  We educate thousands of nurses, but our country has the lowest ratio of health workers to patients in South East Asia.  For every 10,000 Filipinos, there is only one nurse who can attend to them.  There are only 10 hospital beds for every 10,000 of our population. 

With the poor handling of the pandemic, the system has almost reached its breaking point.

The Philippines is considered one of the 5 worst countries in observing the Rule of Law.  Our standing in respecting people’s rights, and uniformly enforcing our laws,  regardless of personalities,  has significantly dropped  from being 51st  in 2015 to being ranked 91st out of 128 countries.  Our failing grades are in the implementation of an impartial justice system, and in the accountability of government officials.  The report noted that the  lack of checks on the performance and integrity of government is caused by the absence of a free and independent press and an independent legislature and judiciary.

Government did poorly in the Human Freedom Index.  Out of 162 countries, the Philippines ranked 76th.  On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 represents freedom on the exercise of our rights, the Philippines’ scored 6.89.

We acknowledge that we have a traffic problem, not only in Metro Manila, but in many urban areas in the country.  But our traffic situation is cited as the 2nd worst traffic in the world out of 416 cities.  A 30-minute trip takes an extra 29 minutes at daytime and 38 more minutes in the evening.  From 230 working days, 257 hours were spent agonizing in traffic.

Our unemployment problem stares at us on our face.  As of April, our unemployment rate is 17.7% which translates to 7.3 million Filipinos who are out of job.  Unemployment brings with it significant problems such as hunger, poverty, and lack of order.

I do not wish to add to the gloom that we are now experiencing.  But we must use human development indicators to evaluate whether we have the government we deserve.  They have improved our credit rating.  But how have they used their powers to make our lives better?  [email protected]